After the death of his parents and brother, Collin Talmage inherits a dukedom. But before he takes his place among the peerage as the Duke of Trenwyth he must go on one last mission for the crown. On the eve of his secret assignment, he and his men visit a tavern and brothel, which is where he meets and beds the woman who will haunt him for years to come. The innocent, vulnerable Ginny. She gives him understanding immediately after the untimely deaths of his family, a light in the dark to hold on to when he is captured, held for ransom and tortured by his enemies, and a ghost who he searches for endlessly while trying to acclimate back into life after living through the worst that life has to offer.
By day Imogen Pritchard works as a nurse at St. Margaret’s Hospital, by night she works off her father’s debt at the Bare Kitten. With a mother and younger sister to support she has no choice but to work around the clock in order to provide for their care. She and the larger than life Duke of Trenwyth seem to crash together again and again. She’s been his lover for a night, his nurse when he is rescued from captivity, and now the neighbor who drives him insane with her desire to open her home to all of those who society has forgotten. He only remembers the desperate, young woman who opened her arms for him that long ago night, he has no idea that the woman he’s been searching for the last two years is the same woman who taunts, tantalizes, and tempts him nearly every day.
Kerrigan Byrne has fast become one of my auto-buy romance authors. There is something about her writing that reminds me of those old-school paperbacks I used to devour in high school. Her heroes are intense in a way all at once gives me chills in delight, and trepidation about what they might do next. Not easy heroes to love, but I’ve always liked a dark, broody man in my romance. On the other hand, Ms. Byrne’s heroines are strong enough to stand up to them.
The Duke starts out introducing Imogen as a woman in terrible circumstances, having to work at a tavern by night to pay off her late father’s debts. This is where she meets Collin for the first time. He’s in a low place after inheriting a dukedom he doesn’t want due to the deaths of a family he still grieves for. He buys her for a night and then takes her innocence. Never knowing her real name or that he is the only man she has ever taken to bed. The second time they meet is when Collin is brought home by the Demon Highlander after a daring rescue. Imogen becomes his nurse, and while she definitely recognizes him, Collin is almost comatose in his feverish, deathly ill state. She nurses him back to health and is rewarded by him basically throwing her out of his hospital room when he wakes. She loses her position and later that night almost loses something more. She resorts to desperate measures which ultimately lead her to the only man who has really shown her any kindness and a new life.
I have to say I was emotionally invested in these characters after all angst and drama of the first eight chapters. I also had no idea what in the hell to expect. Collin is angry and scarred both internally and externally. He has fixated on the woman who offered him comfort immediately before his horrific time spent in an Ottoman prison and has spent the last two years searching for his Ginny. Almost immediately when he comes face to face with Imogen he is cruel. He says ugly things and threatens her. Imogen on the other hand as always been drawn toward Collin. She gives him chance after chance to show her that he is the same man who took her innocence three years before. Despite her own dark past experiences, she has come out the other side determined to give others a helping hand. A step up in life. Her passion is giving the neediest a safe place to start a new life. I liked her almost immediately. Which may be why I wanted so much more for her than a man who constantly made her feel less.
Yes, Collin does become protective toward her as the book progresses and decides to let go of Ginny and embrace his feelings toward Imogen. But, for me, it almost comes too late. The relationship between Imogen and Collin is just so filled with darkness and sorrow that I kind of needed just a few more scenes of them connecting on a lighter level. That’s not to say I didn’t understand where they were both coming from, and why they had such a hard time connecting on a deeper level. I did. But even after Collin finally figures out that the only two women he’s ever really wanted are one and the same person he behaves in a way that set me aback. Once again he acts like a total ass. I kept waiting for him to redeem himself and it wasn’t until the very, very, very end that he finally does. That’s a lot of dark asshole to get through. In my mind, I kept thinking that this is the one historical romance that would have benefited from an epilogue. Maybe of Collin acting the dedicated husband or a love scene that wasn’t heaped with angst, anger, or regret. Of them laughing or doing something mundane, yet enjoying themselves because they are together.
I know my review makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy The Duke, which I did. I just wish there had been a little more of Collin and Imogen interacting on a sweeter, happier level toward the end. While not my favorite of the Victorian Rebels series, this is still a good read by an incredibly talented author. I’m looking forward to the next release in the series, which comes out later this year. Final grade- B-/C+
“Then I will love the man you have become. And if you live in the shadows, I’ll find you patches of sunlight, and we’ll venture into them together when you are able.”